Last Updated on March 25, 2020 by Dr. Alberto Solà

Almost everyone was surprised when the city of Denver, Colorado decriminalized “magic” mushrooms this month, even some of the movement’s biggest supporters. The city is the first in the nation to do so, and no matter what you may or may not know about their active ingredient, psilocybin, you are likely surprised too. Why would anyone do such a thing? Well, the reasons are numerous – and to many, are valid. People have been voluntarily ingesting these psychedelic mushrooms for hundreds if not thousands of years, and in recent decades, there has been much research into the positive benefits of these interesting fungi in the world of mental health – and even addiction recovery.

What Happened?

The group pushing for this decriminalization began their work just ten months ago, lead by campaign manager Kevin Matthews.  Matthews supports psilocybin decriminalization based on his own personal experience. Now in his early thirties, he credits mushrooms as a personal savior that helped him bounce back from debilitating depression that forced him to drop out of the United States Military Academy at West Point a decade ago.

Because of his positive experience, and further research confirming more positive mental health benefits in a variety of clinical studies since, he felt it was time to begin a movement. Due to Denver and Colorado in general’s success with medical and then recreational marijuana, there likely were few places more primed for a movement of this kind.

After canvassers collected 8.524 signatures – far surpassing the 4,726 required to get the initiative on the ballot, it appeared on the ballot for a May 7th vote by the citizens of Denver after 5,559 of the signatures were officially verified. At first, it appeared it would not pass; early totals suggested a loss with a twenty percent margin, the final count resulted in a win. It was a very close race; 89,320 people voted yes, and 87,341 voters voted no – a gap of only 1,979 votes between them.

What Does This Mean?

The sudden uproar and reactions to this decriminalization implied that many believed the passing of this ordinance meant that suddenly, psilocybin was entirely legal within the confines of Denver County, but this is not the case. They are not legal, but merely decriminalized. This simply means that they are now among Denver Police’s lowest priorities for arrest and prosecution.

Mushrooms are no more legal than they were before; in fact, they are still illegal. They will not be available for sale, and users cannot buy and sell them among themselves, either. They can, however, be cultivated in someone’s home, and if someone is found in possession of them, they will not be arrested.

This is still a big move, though, because since only eleven drug cases for mushroom possession were filed last year, and only three people were eventually prosecuted for them, the Denver Police can spent their focus, money, and energy on other things. The current mayor, and his opponent in an upcoming runoff for the seat, both say they will respect the wishes of the people, and that the ordinance will stay on the books.  This movement may, down the line, open up the possibility of a future where they can be sold legally, but that was not the backer’s goal.  Their goal was simply to make something that is naturally occurring, and which appears to be helpful for many, become something that would not result in prosecution and jail time if discovered.

Why Was There Support for This?

The reasons this was supported and passed are numerous. Matthews and his team worked hard to decriminalize mushrooms and succeeded.  But why?

On the website of Decriminalize Denver, a site created to garner support for the initiative, the group lists their reasons thusly:

“We envision a society where individuals can use psilocybin mushrooms without fear of criminal or civil penalties. Psilocybin is shown to:

  • Reduce psychological stress and suicidality.
  • Reduce opioid use and dependence.
  • Be physiologically safe and non-addictive.”

Research backs them up. Many studies have confirmed their claims, and many more are currently underway. It appears that great advances can be made in individual mental health with the application of psilocybin in counseling settings, and there is evidence that they can help people break free of opioid dependence as well.

Prior to the passage of this ordinance, there was one case in which doctors could allow their patients to legal consume psilocybin mushrooms, and that was thanks to the “Right to Try” legislation that was passed last year.  This legislation allows terminally ill patience the opportunity to try medications and treatments that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in an attempt to get better, and psilocybin mushrooms fell under that umbrella.

But this decriminalization will open up this opportunity to many more people and clearly, many of the people of Denver believed that was the right thing to do, too. The ordinance also received endorsements from groups like The Denver Green Party, The Libertarian Party of Colorado, and Veterans for Natural Rights, which helped to build and bolster support overall.

In order to determine if this ordinance is effective once it is put in place, the language of the initiative includes the assembly of a panel for review.  The panel will be appointed by the mayor, and will include eleven people, including members of the city council, citizens, an addiction counselor, a harm reduction advocate, members of law enforcement, and local attorneys.  The group will meet regularly to discuss success or failure of the goals of this ordinance in Denver and can revisit and reword the language down the road if they choose, but it is assumed that that won’t be necessary.

What’s Next?

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds; most likely, the average citizen of Denver won’t even notice the change, but others who can benefit certainly will. Hopefully, the decriminalization of psilocybin mushrooms will allow many people to get safe, natural help that they need, and even those who opposed the move will soon see that this is a good thing.  Statewide initiatives are gaining traction in both California and Oregon, and after this passage in Denver, the outlook looks positive for those, too. 

At Clear Sky Recovery, we are quite confident in the benefits of psychedelic substances for mental health and recovery services. Our ibogaine detox treatment is drawn from the iboga tabernanthe plant of Africa, which has long been used by central Africans for many reasons with positive results.  We would love to help you take your first steps on your recovery journey, and we are here to answer any questions you have.  Please call us today, and let us help you to get started on the rest of your life, free from the grip of drugs and alcohol.